Harold Coggins: GAC Baseball Filled with Wall-to-Wall Action


With just three weeks left before the Great American Conference Postseason Baseball Championship tournament, the top two teams in the current GAC baseball standings tuned up for this weekend’s series with wins on Wednesday.

First-place Arkansas Tech turned in the more impressive performance, downing defending champion Southern Arkansas in Russellville, but second-place Arkansas-Monticello was stellar in its own right, rallying past Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia. Both games were non-conference affairs.

The Wednesday conference spotlight shone brightest on Tech Field, where two Top 10 teams took the field. Tech, ranked as high as ninth in one national poll, used senior Jay Johnson’s walk-off RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the No. 5 Muleriders 2-1. In Arkadelphia, No. 26 UAM turned a two-run deficit around with a five-run top of the sixth and held on for a 9-6 victory over the Tigers.

Elsewhere in the GAC on Wednesday, Harding downed Union (Tenn.) 6-3 in Jackson, Tenn.; Arkansas-Fort Smith outlasted Henderson State 4-1 in Fort Smith; and Oklahoma Baptist humiliated East Central 23-4 in Ada, Okla.

In Russellville, Johnson’s hit capped a two-run, ninth inning rally.  The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when SAU’s Carver Rademacher blasted a solo home run over the left-field fence. In the bottom of the ninth, though, the Wonder Boys’ John Lassiter slapped an RBI double down the right-field line to score Kris Ayers, who started the winning rally with a one-out double. A wild pitch advanced Lassiter to third prior to Johnson’s game-winning hit.

gac baseball action harold coggins columnIn Arkadelphia, seniors Ben Agredano and Ray Johnson delivered consecutive two-run singles in the Boll Weevils’ five-run sixth. UAM’s other run in the inning came off an OBU error. The Weevils added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth on another RBI double by Tyler Caruthers followed by an RBI groundout from Evan Comeau. OBU rallied for five hits and two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but UAM closer Jeff Harvill shut the door for his UAM single-season and career record ninth save.

Harding sophomore Noah Chandler went 3-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI to lead the Bisons. The game was tied 2-2 after four innings with Chandler driving in both of the Bisons’ run but a two-run fifth put Harding ahead to stay. The key for the Bisons was their ability to get leadoff batters on base. Four times the Harding leadoff hitter reached and came around to score in three of those innings.

In Fort Smith, Henderson’s lone run came in the eighth inning as Joseph Gary singled to lead off the inning and later scored on Hayden Lessenberry’s sacrifice fly. Eighteen runs in the first two innings by Oklahoma Baptist quickly doomed East Central, which managed only four hits while Tiger pitchers allowed 16 hits, walked 10, hit four more batters and threw in a couple of wild pitches.

This weekend, 10 of the 11 GAC teams return to conference action, while Southern Arkansas plays host to No. 6 Delta State in Magnolia — another Top 10 showdown for the Muleriders.

Ouachita Baptist (19-21, 12-9) at Arkansas Tech (29-8, 16-5)

At Tech Field, Russellville

The first-place Wonder Boys have won 10 games in a row. They are led by senior first baseman Mike Kattula, who is tied for third in the league in batting with a .381 average, and junior closer Randy Vallejo, currently leading the conference with 10 saves. As a team Tech ranks second in batting and fourth in pitching in the GAC. Senior Ryan Taylor is the reigning GAC Pitcher of the Week after dominating Northwestern Oklahoma in securing a series sweep for the Wonder Boys. Taylor threw a seven-inning shutout and held the Rangers to only three hits—allowing no NWOSU runner to reach third base. He struck out 11 hitters (a season-high for Tech pitchers) and did not issue a walk. OBU, currently in fifth place, will counter with senior right hander Davis Ward, who currently leads e GAC in innings pitched and is tied for second in wins with seven. Ward also leads the GAC with three complete games. The  series starts with a single game at 6 p.m. on Friday and concludes with a doubleheader on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m.

Prediction: Tech sweep

* * *

Arkansas-Monticello (28-11, 17-7) at Southern Nazarene (15-23, 4-20)

At Cypert Athletic Complex, Bethany, Okla.

The Boll Weevils take their league-leading pitching staff on the road for the second weekend in a row. UAM, currently on a nine-game GAC winning streak, has a 3.46 earned run average as a team and senior Kade Garlington currently leads the GAC in wins with eight. It’s not all pitching with the Weevils, either. Agredano has a league-leading 59 hits, 42 RBI and is currently second in the GAC in batting average at .383. UAM also boasts the last two GAC Baseball Players of the Week in junior first baseman Bronson Gillam and senior left fielder Ray Johnson. The Crimson Storm limps into this series losers of 10 of their last 12 league contests. The series begins with a Friday doubleheader, starting at 1 p.m., and finishes with a single game at noon on Saturday.

Prediction: UAM sweep

* * *

Henderson State (15-22, 9-12) at Harding (22-15, 13-8)

At Jerry Moore Field, Searcy

Harding boasts the current GAC leading hitter in senior Matt Calhoun, who is hitting at a .384 clip with five homers. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Fiddler currently leads the GAC in opponent batting average, allowing just 28 hits in 15 appearances for a paltry .200 batting average against him. Harding is also the GAC’s best fielding club, committing just 34 errors in 1,306 chances for a  .974 percentage. The Bisons also lead the league in double plays (40). Henderson, meanwhile, enters the series winners of five of its last six GAC contests and is led in bating by Lessenberry, with a .353 average. Freshman Dylan Howell currently sits seventh in individual ERA with a 2.82 in 38.1 innings pitched. Friday, the two teams meet at 3 p.m. in a single game, which will be followed by a twinbill on Saturday, starting at noon.

Prediction: Harding 2-1.

* * *

Southwestern Oklahoma (19-16, 11-10) at East Central (22-16, 11-10)

AT ECU Baseball Field, Ada, Okla.

In the most evenly matched series of the weekend, junior Dalton Daniels leads the Bulldogs with a .381 batting average, which ties him with ATU’s Katulla for third place in the league. Senior Jonathan Johnson has a team-low .2.19 ERA in 70 innings, currently good for fourth among league ERA leaders. ECU must rebound from Wednesday’s 19-run drubbing, but has the arms to do it. Junior Icezak Flemming’s 87 strikeouts in 12 appearances not only leads the GAC in that category—it leads all of Division II. The series begins with a Friday doubleheader, starting at 1 p.m., and concludes with a single game at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Prediction: East Central 2-1. 

* * *

Northwestern Oklahoma (19-19, 5-16) at Southeastern Oklahoma (16-19, 7-14)

At The Ballpark in Durant, Durant, Okla.

The directional school series of the week pits two of the league’s top 10 hitters—Northwestern freshman Logan Porter and senior teammate Jonathan Freemyer, both of whom are hitting .359—against the second-best pitcher in the GAC in terms of ERA—Southeastern junior Mason Crenshaw (2.03). Crenshaw’s teammate, senior Jaime Paxton, is also in the top 10 in ERA, currently ranking eighth with a 2.78. NWOSU’s Freemyer currently has 10 home runs and a .710 slugging percentage to rank first in those GAC statistical categories while Southeastern senior Ryan Salter is currently second in stolen bases with 20. The series begins at 1 p..m on Friday with a doubleheader and ends with a single game at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Prediction: Southeastern 2-1.  

* * *

Delta State (26-7, 19-4 Gulf South Conference) at Southern Arkansas (29-11, 15-9 GAC)

At Walker Stadium at Goodheart Field, Magnolia

Easily the best series of the weekend and likely the hottest ticket, the two-time defending GAC champion Muleriders play host to their old GSC foe. Delta State’s pitching staff is currently ranked fifth in all of Division II with a 2.28 ERA while the Statesmen hitters are sixth in the nation, with a team batting average of .338. SAU will counter with the top hitting club in the GAC at .302 and the league’s top pitcher, junior Janson Carr (1.70 ERA). The Muleriders, in a bit of a slump and on a three-game losing streak (including the last two games of last weekend’s league series at East Central), boast leaders in three individual league statistical categories—senior Tyler Cameron (43 runs scored), Cameron again (28 walks) and junior Jon Phillips (.483 on-base percentage). The series will start with a doubleheader at 3 p.m. on Saturday for SAU’s Military Appreciation Day and conclude with a single game at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Prediction: Delta State 2-1.

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